Psychological Abuse of the Elderly in Nursing Homes
Compared to other forms or abuse and neglect, the physical abuse of the elderly or other residents of nursing homes is sometimes much easier to spot. Bruises, bumps, cuts, broken bones, bed sores, and other physical manifestations of physical abuse are often present and are clear signs that warrant further investigation. A doctor can then examine these physical injuries, speak to the elderly resident and help determine if they were the result of an intentional abuse or whether they were an innocent accident.
But, the mind is a mysterious place that does not display bruises and breaks. One cannot walk into a nursing home and quickly determine which elderly patients have been the victims of psychological or emotional abuse. Consequently, it is of the greatest importance that family members and friends remain vigilant at all times for warning signs when visiting and speaking to residents of nursing and inpatient facilities.
Nursing Home Psychological Abuse Warning Signs
The effects of psychological abuse vary greatly from person to person. Some abuse victims may become withdrawn or more timid, while others may become overly aggressive and confrontational. There is no specific set of reactions that is true for all such victims of abuse.
Signs of psychological abuse can certainly be difficult to identify, and a family should never feel responsible if they are unable to quickly spot these warning signs. But, after continued exposure to such harm, these are some of the most common such warning signs:
- Weakening of immune system
- Sudden changes in behavior or personality
- Insomnia and inability to sleep
- Withdrawal from activities
- Unusual or excessive fear
- Sudden refusal to speak or interact with others
- Sudden loss of weight
- Sudden loss of appetite
- Susceptibility to infections and injuries
- Refusal to take medications
- New unusual behaviors (which may include rocking, biting or sucking)
Types of Psychological Abuse
The psychological or emotional abuse of nursing home or institutional patients can take many forms. But in general, they can be divided into two basic categories, verbal and non-verbal:
Verbal abuse: This type of abuse involves verbal yelling, harassment, and emotional attacks on the elderly or infirm victim. If the family member is present when this occurs, it can be quite obvious that such psychological abuse is under way. The vast majority of abusers who work in nursing homes will take great care to treat patients with respect when family members are present. Only when relatives have gone does the abuse begin. So, as with any other type of suspected abuse, it is greatly important to watch for warning signs. Some examples of verbal abuse include:
- Shouting, screaming or yelling at the patient
- Threatening harm to the resident
- Pretending that the patient will be harmed
- Ridiculing, insulting or calling names
- Treating the resident as if he/she were a child
- Intentionally making the patient feel upset or guilty
- Blaming the resident for something they did not do
- Intentionally embarrassing the patient
- Being mean or uncaring
- Intimidating the nursing home resident
Non-Verbal Abuse: If verbal abuse is more difficult to spot than the obvious warning signs of physical abuse, then non-verbal abuse is even harder still to detect. The same warning signs of injury apply to non-verbal abuse, but because the medical staff member is not verbally berating, harassing or insulting the patient, it is often more difficult to notice. The effects however, are no less serious and may include feelings of isolation, fear and helplessness. Some examples of such non-verbal abuse include:
- Ignoring the patient
- Hiding, stealing or taking away personal items
- Ignoring the patient or giving him/her the "cold shoulder"
- Isolating the resident from other people
- Stopping the patient from going outside or other interactions
- Pretending to cause physical harm
- Restricting the patient's access to water, food or bathroom
Risk Factors for Nursing Home Psychological Abuse
Psychological and emotional abuse of a patient can happen anywhere. It is not restricted merely to residents of nursing homes or inpatient facilities. It happens just as often in hospitals and medical offices at the hands of doctors and nurses. It is not limited to the elderly or to those with a diminished capacity to defend themselves. But, it is true that those in the weakest position to take care of themselves are often those at the greatest risk for abuse.
Although abusers generally prey upon the weak, ultimately it is not the characteristics of the abused that make abuse more or less likely. To suggest so would imply some aspect of culpability on the part of the victim. More accurately, it is generally the characteristics of the staff member or caregiver that more likely predicts whether abuse is likely to occur. In many medical establishments, nursing homes and inpatient facilities, the staff is underpaid, understaffed and undertrained. Some medical staff suffers from depression themselves, struggles with drug addiction, or has serious financial problems, while others have a history of violent aggression or psychiatric issues themselves. As you might imagine, these members of the medical staff are at much greater risk to take part in abusive behavior against nursing home residents.
Prevention and Reporting of Nursing Home Psychological Abuse in Chicago
Carefully selecting caregivers and nursing home facilities and then diligently watching for warning signs is all that can reasonably be expected of family members. Hopefully, psychological abuse can be avoided when this is done. In the event that abuse is detected, it is very important that the family immediately report such illegal behavior to the governmental agencies in charge of regulating nursing homes and simultaneously contact the experienced legal team at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is certainly a good place to start and they will likely perform an inspection or investigation once you have filed such a complaint.
But of equal importance, contact a Chicago nursing home abuse lawyer at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC by calling (800) 996-4824 any time of day or night for immediate professional assistance to hold wrongdoers responsible. There is never a legal fee charged unless we are successful on your family's behalf. Many millions of dollars have already been collected for our clients. Call today.